It was snowing the day that John died; huge flakes falling, obscenely beautiful, as all around bullets and mortars rent flesh from bone.
They were chasing down the Confederate rearguard as Hood’s army retreated in an unholy rabble from Nashville. John’s cavalry unit was in close pursuit through a copse off the pike, dodging between the stands of trees, when a musket ball struck him dead on, the impact throwing him from his saddle and taking his breath in a shocked, wheezing gasp as his horse and the charge went on without him.
He lay sprawled on the frozen ground, arms flung wide, and stared up helplessly at the leaden sky. Snow stole his sight, and a biting, hollowing cold began to seep into every pore as the blood bubbling from the hole in his chest slowly stained the icy whiteness beneath him.
There was movement through the thicket, cautious but calculating, and John tried to turn his head, struggling against the numbness spreading through his limbs. He fumbled for the hilt of his sword at his hip, the polished grip familiar and sure.
“Well, well… a Billy Yank – and an officer, too.” There was a hoarse laugh, like brittle bones scraping over stone, and a pale face peered down. The figure was dressed in the tattered remnants of a rebel greatcoat over a mismatched uniform. A lot of the Confederate troops had to make do with foraged or looted clothing, but there was something off about this man, something wrong. Perhaps it was the blood loss – or stepping closer to the veil as John’s old grandmamma used to say - but the man just didn’t seem quite… human.
John tried to move but froze as the grisly smile deepened and yellowed teeth became visible, elongating before his eyes as their tips grew sharp. It wasn’t possible... “What the hell?” His voice was cut off as a frigid hand grabbed his throat.
“No, not Hell. Heaven neither.” The accent rolled like molasses, and John couldn’t help but shiver. “Som’thin’ older than that… or diff’rent, so I’m thinkin’.” The hand tightened. “Vampire, Billy boy and you look good enough to eat…”
Before John had time to react, the man – the vampire – lunged forward, biting deep into John’s neck. John cried out, struggling against the iron hold, but the creature was too strong – and John was weakening with every heartbeat. The thing drank, obscene, wet, gulping sounds loud in the darkness, and John felt the cold closing in more swiftly, his heart slowing as his sight faded.
Damn it. John was a soldier – top of his class at West Point and a man of honour. He’d go out fighting or be damned! Grasping his sword as firmly as he could, he rammed it home, slicing up through the vampire’s chest and sending a spray of dark, cloying blood flying down, an unwelcome bitterness dripping across his tongue.
The vampire reared back with a howl, the sword pulling free and falling with a hollow chime onto the frozen earth. It looked ready to pounce again but then paused, looking shrewdly at John, and grinned. “Huh. I think you’re gonna live to regret doing that, boy.” It wiped a calloused hand across John’s blood slicked lips and began to laugh. “Or maybe not live ex’ctly…”
John turned away from the vile touch, gagging and spitting. He had no idea what the creature meant, but he grabbed feebly for his sword again. Watching him, the vampire just laughed louder and casually turned away, chuckles fading into nothingness as it shambled into the trees.
The cold was all encompassing now, wrapping around John like a shroud. Blind and barely able to breathe, he clasped his sword to his chest and closed his eyes.
His heart beat twice more… and then there was silence.
John woke in a shallow grave with a crude wooden cross as a marker – a practice to allow the deceased to be returned home for a proper burial when circumstances allowed. But John hadn’t had a home for quite a while now, and his family was gone.
Despite having been born in Virginia, John had chosen to remain loyal to the Union Army and the President when war had broken out. His father – a staunch supporter of the Southern cause – had never forgiven him and had died at Antietam without the two of them ever speaking again. His brother David had followed their father’s lead, and John had lost him a year later at Gettysburg.
John was alone, dead to everyone he had ever known.
The decades passed, and John haunted the fringes of life. He knew what he had become – what he’d been turned in to – and he preferred to remain in the cold comfort of darkness; never risking getting close to anyone. He didn’t feed on humans and didn’t seek out the company of his own kind. There was an ever present numbness, bleak and penetrating, freezing him to the core. He simply existed, trapped in an eternal winter of solitude.
Until that night in Bucharest… He still didn’t know how it had happened; a fleeting flash of almost forgotten light and warmth as a hurrying figure, patently a stranger yet somehow familiar, had passed close by. John had been helpless. A madness had consumed him, and, before any rational thought, he was tasting – and the sweet heat had made him do the unthinkable, the thing he’d sworn never to do. He’d condemned another to his own fate.
John fled; ashamed, confused and horrified by his actions, yet still longing to be near to – to touch – that intoxicating incandescence again. His instincts had taken hold and he’d followed the man, drawn by something beyond him, and so had arrived, after so many years, back in the US.
He’d waited, watching from the shadows until he’d had to act, to seek out the man that had suddenly consumed his soul. Finally – inevitably – they spoke, the air heavy with steam and the scent of dark roast, and the last hundred and fifty years simply melted away.